This post stems from an article titled “Five Simple Ways to Say ‘Thanks’ to a Journalist” that was sent to me by a friend and colleague. After reading it again (completely this time around), I now regret having dismissed it as one of those ‘know-it-all, outside-looking-in, PR insider tip’ fluff and making an off-the-cuff remark that the best way to say ‘thanks’ is not to waste their time and always give them a good story when you call on them.
I am not at all against the idea of being appreciative or expressing my gratitude for reporters who come to events they are invited to, grant lengthy interviews to their shows, or write stories/columns about the subject matter you bring to their attention. This is merely being polite and courteous to people who have given you their time and worked their asses off.
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It actually has a few good points which should be taken to heart, despite seeming buried in a presentation that appears to appeal to someone who is only beginning to work in close and direct contact with journalists. You know the type of person who either looks like a college intern with either a communications or journalism degree or someone who was moved laterally within the company for certain reasons.
Perhaps that’s what got to me because I’ve been working with and around journalists for over ten years now and knowing how some journalists are, I cringe at the thought of handing them a ‘thank you’ card with contact details (which is tip 1 & 2 in the list), tagging them when you share a link to the online version of their story (which is tip 3), or writing them an email to give them an honest assessment of how they handled your story (which is tip 4).
The card will most certainly be chucked in the wastebin. Even if you know the journalist personally, you should think twice about ‘tagging’ them on social media for a story and be wary about how it may look. And really, if you’re not going to commend them for doing anything less than a great job, don’t bother them with an assessment of their work — they get enough feedback from their bosses and peers.
Tip No. 5 seems to be the clincher, “Send News Tips Not Related to You” and it would be great if the reporter will find your tip helpful — otherwise, especially in situations where they are covering a controversial story, they’ll be asking why you are so helpful. Thing is, no reporter will earn his or her stripes, as it were, without developing their own network of resource people who they’ve learned to TRUST and if you’re not IN their ‘circle of trust’, forget sending them ‘news tips’.
Of all the things said in the article, it is perhaps this unlisted advise that looks like it is SPOT ON:
“Whether it’s something as small as splitting the check or as big as a bouquet of flowers, a gift gets you no where. Instead, it puts you and the reporter in an awkward place.
“Embarrassing. Transactional. Bribe. Ethically harmful. These aren’t the words you want as part of your relationship with a reporter.”
As far as I know, both ABS-CBN and GMA7 have pretty explicit company rules about “gifts” and the thing is, one network actually pegged the cost of the ‘gift’ that a reporter can receive without being penalized for it. I think the rule should be revised to state that ABSOLUTELY NO GIFTS should be received, but anyway, because this is the Philippines, the loop-hole to this rule was probably thought about before the rule was created.
DESPITE knowing the rules on giving gifts to journalists, some PR Firms still insist on this practice. They usually charge such gifts to their clients and sometimes, the gift doesn’t even reach the journalist. There could be a number of reasons for this and it could include the fact that news corporations may actually have a policy of sequestering gifts for journalists if they’re delivered to the newsroom. Alternatively, the journalist may have simply refused to accept the gift and consequently sticking the PR firm with the problem of figuring out what to do with the gift.
In any case, the point is, when a PR firm asks it client to spend for a gift for a journalist, it tends to put the journalist in a bad light and unfairly marks them out as ‘that kind’ of journalist. If such a transaction is entered into the company’s financial records and that record is for some reason revealed to the public, the journalist for whom the gifts were purchased might be unfairly accused of accused of receiving bribes from the company.
Of course friends, I’m talking about the ‘shoulds’ and we know that things are far from ideal, so it’s rather difficult for those in the business to think that NO ONE is on the take. If I were to believe all the stories of ‘sponsored’ parties, vacations abroad or in posh resorts in the Philippines, luxury goods, or millions of pesos being transferred to a bank account, I guess there’d only be a very few people who’d be above reproach in this matter.
What would help, really, is if people in the industry conduct ourselves professionally and that goes back to what I said at the start of this post, “the best way to say ‘thanks’ is not to waste their time and always give them a good story that’s fit for news.”
At the very core of this is the idea that companies and personalities engaging in public relations as well as journalists should conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism.
In the serious and straight relationship between a company/personality and a reporter, the currency will and should always be a GOOD NEWS STORY. What’s that? Well, that my friends, is something for another blogpost.